French Silent Letters and Pronunciation

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One of the difficulties with French pronunciation is that it is not a phonetic language. A phonetic language (e.g., Spanish, Arabic) is one in which each letter has a single corresponding sound; in other words, spelling matches pronounciation. Other languages, like French and English, are not phonetic: they have letters that can be pronounced in different ways or sometimes not at all. 

There are three categories of silent letters in French.

  • E muet / Elision
  • H muet and aspiré
  • Final consonants

This lesson will focus on final consonants; follow the links to the right for detailed explanations of the silent letters E and H.

The basic rule of French pronunciation is that the final consonant is not pronounced, but there are many exceptions, which are what this lesson is about.*

The letters B, C, F, K, L, Q, and R are usually pronounced at the end of a word. Tip: Since B, K, and Q are rare as final consonants, some people find it helpful to use the word CaReFuL to remember the most common of the usually pronounced final consonants.

Usually pronounced   Some exceptions*
Ble Maghreb
un snob
un club
le plomb
  
Cun truc
un flic
avec
un estomac, un tabac, le porc
 nasal vowel + c: un bancblanc
  
Factif
un chef
un oeuf
un nerf, une clefoeufs
  
Kun anorak
un look
le bifteck
 
  
L

il
avril
un hôtel
un bol

gentiloutil 
 vowel + -ilà l'appareil, un oeil
le coq
cinq
 
  
Run four
hiver
abrutir
                   {boulangerboucher
 

               -er

-er infinitivesabonnercauser

 

 

 

-ier suffixpremiercahier
 

The other French consonants are usually silent at the end of a word, with some exceptions. Tip: many exceptions are proper names or words borrowed from other languages.

Usually silentSome exceptions*
Dfroid
chaud
d'accord
sud
 Proper namesDavidAlfred
  
Gle sang
long
le grog
  
MThe letters M and N are usually silent, but remember that they cause the vowel preceding them to be nasal.
 un
balcon
parfum
Latin wordsamenforum
  
Pun drap
beaucoup
un champ
un slip, un cap 
  
Sexprès
trois
vous
bas
un fils, un autobus, le tennis
  
Tet
abricot
salut
vingt
brutouesthuit
 -ct endingdirectstrict
 -pt endingconceptsept
  
Xdeux
un prix
un époux
sixindexAix 
  
Z

chez
le riz

 

le gaz

Note: The words plus and tout have their own pronunciation rules.